How to Upgrade and Optimize Your Gaming Laptop for 2021

Table of contents

Let’s say you just got a brand new gaming laptop, sooner or later you are probably going to wonder what are some of the first steps to take in terms of optimizing and potentially even upgrading to get some performance boosts? Well that is what this article is all about. We are going to walk you through how to optimize, upgrade, and tweak to show some real performance benefits. Even on a newer laptop we can achieve you some amazing results. Now if you have been following the channel for a while you might recall us doing something similar, but that was 2 years ago, and over the course of that time period we have learned a lot as Windows 10 is evolved in many ways. We are also going to make sure that we put users at ease when it comes to accessing the laptops interior, it’s not that difficult depending on the type of laptop.

The specimen for this article is the brand new Lenovo Legion 5 AMD. All the tips and tricks that I will be covering in this article can be applied to pretty much any other laptop. Huge thanks to Lenovo Legion for partnering with us on this article, so without any further ado let’s just get right into it.

Lenovo Legion 5 AMD

This is the Lenovo Legion 5 AMD, which is one of the most requested gaming laptops we have had this year, and I finally got my hands on one. I also want to mention that this happens to be one of our top gaming laptops of 2020. You can check out that article right over here, and it was picked by none other than the awesome Jarrod from Jarrod’s Tech. From the outside it is essentially using the same chassis as the Legion 5i Intel models, but this time we have AMD powering the insides. I really love these simple and clean design, nothing gamer-y, no red and black accents. It is designed for minimalists who love gaming and I happen to fall into that same category.

The interior space follows the same aesthetic, you get a full-size keyboard with keys that give you excellent feedback and thanks to the TrueStrike technology. This laptop also comes packed with Legion’s Coldfront 2.0 system, which provides amazing cooling performance. The port selection is adequate enough, the majority of them are located at the back for easier cable management. You get an RJ45 port, USB Type-C with DisplayPort passthrough, two USB Type-A ports, HDMI, power-in, and Kensington lock. On both the right side there is a USB Type-A port, and on the left there is another one along with an audio jack. on the left.

The configuration options on the Legion 5 are very flexible. Starting at $1,000 USD you can get a Ryzen 5 4600H with 8GB of RAM in single-channel mode and a GeForce GTX 1650. However, it can be configured all the way to over $1,400 USD with an RTX 2060, 32GB of RAM, and RAID SSDs. What is really cool is that Legion actually allows for certain upgrades within their warranty programs, which includes upgrading the memory and maybe even adding more storage, so that is a nice benefit.

Windows Setup

Setting this up initially didn’t take too much time, aside from one minor change to Windows and that is because they have removed the option to actually use an offline account. Using that type of account was something that a lot of people recommended 2 years ago, so not having that option is pretty disappointing. The nice thing is that there is not a lot of bloatware pre-installed on the Legion 5, which is great, but there are a few things that need to be taken care of in order to make sure that things run the way that I want them to. Before I get rid of anything, let’s just make sure Windows is up to date. I prefer to perform these updates myself instead of having Windows interrupt my workflow. You can simply do that by searching “updates” and then refreshing it every single time when your system restarts. Now since there is no way to stop updates completely anymore, I make sure Windows installs its updates outside my regular working hours. Most manufacturers also include an app of their own – like Lenovo Vantage – to check for device specific updates, like a new BIOS, or maybe audio/Bluetooth/GPU drivers, so go ahead and update that.

With that out of the way, I think it’s time to clean things up. The first thing I’m going to do is get rid of the McAfee antivirus because I have been starting to receive popups and it’s annoying. Personally, I think it and Norton are some of the most system resource hungry applications. In my opinion there are a lot of better free options and alternatives out there. All I have to do is just head over to Start and then type in “appwiz.cpl”, it is a quick way to access all of your installed programs and applications. While I’m here I’m also going to get rid of WebAdvisor as well. There is an Office 365 trial version pre-installed on the Legion 5, and I think it’s pre-installed on pretty much every modern Windows laptops. In this case I can just log into my Office account and activate my subscription plan, so that is pretty convenient.

The next step is to download more RAM, because people do that right? I was just kidding. You see one of the things that you can do with even a new or an old used system is to regularly go through your programs to make sure that you uninstalls apps that you don’t necessarily use or don’t even touch. I also like to do a few little tweaks within Windows too. The first thing is to make sure I disable start up programs when I log into Windows, because that can have a massive performance impact when just logging into Windows every single time. I don’t want to have to wait for programs to load up every time and that can actually make a difference. To do this run Task Manager from Windows Search Bar, select a start-up and disable any programs you don’t use. Don’t worry you will still be able to access them regularly. Windows tends to have a lot of pop-ups too, so open up Notifications & Actions and uncheck “Get tips, tricks, and suggestions” along with disabling the notifications from any app you don’t want interrupting you. Finally, Windows has a disk cleanup utility that I use regularly since it removes unused items like temporary files, cached updates and more.

Useful Apps

Now that things are running the way that I want them to, I’m going to download some programs that I think would be useful for a lot of people and they don’t take up a ton of system resources, which is great. Now if you haven’t heard of Ninite.com I think you have been missing out. I recommended this in the original video and I’m doing the exact same thing, because I still keep doing it every single time when I’m setting up a brand new Windows PC. This is a fantastic site that allows you to handpick and download popular programs, and perhaps even discover new ones too. It’s all done on a single site so you don’t have to spend hours visiting countless sites.

For protection I would say the built-in Windows Defender is good enough for basic security, but if you are working with sensitive and confidential documents investing in upgraded security is worth it. I personally prefer Malwarebytes, there is a free and premium option, and it’s less resource hungry than many competing options, especially those like McAfee or Norton which are resources hogs. One of the most useful utilities that I use is WinDirStat, this is a disk usage statistics viewer that allows you to monitor what files are eating up your hard drive’s capacity. Since it has a really nice visual UI, you can quickly identify the areas that might be taking up valuable space. Then there is Zoom for online meetings. Personally, I prefer this over Skype since it’s pretty easy to use and it works on pretty much every platform, so that’s a bonus.

Discord is also a popular communications program among gamers, especially if you are into multiplayer, and then Sumatra PDF is my go-to PDF viewer. It is fast, clean, and straightforward. Foxit reader is also another great alternative, but if you just want something light Sumatra PDF is a great app. For media I use Spotify for music, but then if you think about it pretty much everyone else does. Audacity is also something that I use to record my voiceovers when I want to add something to a video, it is a free useful program. I also like installing K-Lite’s Codec Pack, which updates Windows to properly support a bunch of important audio and video formats. Grab the standard version instead of the basics since it comes with Media Player Classic, which is pretty awesome and I highly recommend it over the stock Windows Media Player.

Finally, there is Handbrake for transcoding videos, which I’m sure the Ryzen CPU inside of the Legion 5 would love. Not only that but it also has GPU acceleration for NVIDIA and AMD graphics processors, so you can get a nice little performance bump from that too. All I’m going to do right now is hit the Ninite button and then it will download a custom installer and install all the checkmarked applications with just a press of a button. It’s super fast and I use this every single time when I’m setting up a brand new system. There also an other app that I use every single day called QuickLook that can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store for free. Essentially it enables a quick preview of a file and its contents by simply hitting the spacebar, kind of like what you get with Mac OS. I love using every single day, especially when it comes to previewing my photos and of course the footage that I have for every video.

You might notice that I haven’t mentioned Chrome for web browsing and the reason being Chrome just loves memory and it can get sluggish at times. Recently I have been using Microsoft Edge browser, which sounds shocking right? Well the truth is it’s actually built on Chromium and it has better memory allocation than Chrome. It is also super fast and I have been really enjoying using it. If you want some additional privacy in your web client checkout Brave, it’s a great little open-source browser that puts your privacy first. However, it does come with some small limitations, like some of the latest patches causing instability so just be aware of that. Finally, I have to load the desktop with a brand new wallpaper and my go-to source for that is the wallhaven.cc website. I still recommend it every single day to pretty much everyone who wants a new wallpaper. They keep updating their collection pretty regularly and they have access to high resolution wallpapers, so if you want to take advantage of that on your desktop this is a great resource. Normally I just go for abstract vector art, something with just a little bit of colour, something that is a minimalistic as well, but I can spend hours on it so if you want to kill productivity this is one way of doing it.

RAM Upgrade

Now I want to transition into upgrading your brand new gaming laptop. One of the biggest ways that people tend to save money is going with 8GB of memory, which is the base configuration that most notebook manufacturers provide. In most instances this is perfectly fine if you don’t decide to use that notebook for gaming, photo editing, video editing, or just intensive applications. 8GB of memory in single-channel mode can negatively impact performance, especially on AMD Ryzen CPUs so I want to discuss a bit about how you can see what kind of memory configuration you have and also how to upgrade to something a little bit better. There are a lot of ways you can see what kind of memory config you have installed without opening the laptop. Before buying some companies like Legion make it obvious what they are using, but otherwise you can just download CPU-Z, head over into the Memory tab, and check out the channel information. Dual channel means there are two modules installed while Single means there is just one.

Also take note of the DRAM frequency and multiply that by 2X to get the speed of memory you will need. On Ryzen 4000 series processors like this one that is DDR4-3200. The main problem is even if you buy a kit that says DDR4-3200 it might not actually run at that speed unless your system and the memory itself supports it. On Intel laptops that means confirming your system supports XMP profiles since a lot of modules need that to run at their rated speeds.

On AMD systems it is a bit trickier since even quality laptops like this Legion 5 don’t support XMP profiles, so what should you do? Well it all comes down to finding a kit that has verified JEDEC speeds up to DDR4-3200 like this one does. And yes, I know that is almost impossible without looking at it user reviews, but as a general rule of thumb the non-gaming or green modules from companies like Crucial, Samsung, and Kingston are high compatibility but lower performance and are typically JEDEC certified for their speeds. If you have a single module I don’t really recommend going out and buying any random module from eBay or Amazon just to populate that second slot, because you could run into some compatibility issues. Ether buy another matching pair or find a single module that matches the exact same specs as your pre-installed memory module. If you want to give them matching a shot, Crucial actually has an awesome tool that helps you find modules that will fit with your system, but even that doesn’t have every system around.

Before you go grab your screwdriver this is super important, while Legion actually allows you to access the inside of the laptop for upgrading some other manufacturers don’t, so make sure you read your warranty thoroughly or even contact customer support to verify. But other than that getting into the Legion 5 is actually pretty straightforward, and it is a process that can be used for many other modern laptops too. You only need a small headed Philips screwdriver, some patience, and some steady hands. Once the screws are removed, slowly unclip the laptop’s base cover and you will be inside. If you have an older notebook though, there might be a dedicated memory cover instead. The memory is pretty easy to get to, but on other laptops it might be covered by thermal shield or some other type of cover. Replacing it is super easy, just unclip the side metal holders, angle the module, remove it, and pop another module in its place by reversing the process. Next what you want to do is close everything back up and start the computer. Provided your new memory runs at the same frequency as the ones originally installed they should be running at the right speed, but you can double check that by heading back into the CPU-Z Memory tab.

With that out of the way let’s talk about how a memory upgrade would affect the AMD Ryzen 7 4800H that is on the Legion 5. To do that I will bring you back to what I said before about how some people might have only 8GB or less installed on their laptops. I will be covering performance from single-channel to dual-channel and even 16GB to 32GB. Starting with Adobe Premiere, and it is no secret that this program loves both dual-channel configurations and larger memory footprints. There is a huge improvement going from a single 8GB module to two 8GB sticks, and then a bit better rendering performance jumping up to a 32GB configuration. On the other hand, AutoDesk Maya’s rendering only sees a significant jump when moving between single- and dual-channel layouts. That is probably because it only eats up about 6GB while chewing through the scene that we are using here. Handbrake results follow AutoDesk Maya in a lot of ways, since it is a CPU rather than a memory intensive program, then again there is limited benefits from having 32GB. Overall it’s really application dependent, but the best layout you can get for the money is probably going to be 2x8GB right now… that is unless you’re using a specific program that eats memory for breakfast like Google Chrome. Moving onto gaming, and sure the GTX 1650 Ti is a little underpowered, but it still gets the job done pretty well at 1080P. Going from single- to dual-channel almost makes it feel like you have done a GPU upgrade. As for the 32GB config, well there is really not much in the way of benefits in games.

Storage Upgrade

Now let’s talk about another upgrade possibility and that is storage. In many ways it is just as important as memory, maybe even a little bit more considering the size of games these days. On the Legion 5 the primary drive is installed into an M.2 slot, and there is also a 2.5-inch hard drive. There is another M.2 here as well, but it can only be used if there is nothing in that 2.5-inch caddy. Let’s tackle upgrading the spinning hard drive first, taking it out requires a couple of screws to be removed, unplugging the connector, and then carefully sliding it off the caddy. When you grab your new 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD simply repeat the process in the reverse order.

As for installing a new M.2 SSD it’s even easier provided you remember there are different sizes and versions of M.2 SSDs. First of all, either check to see the type of drive you will need, either SATA for older laptops or NVMe for newer ones. SATA has a 3 gold finger layout while NVMe has one large connector and one small one. As for size, the most common and the one that is used in laptop is called 2280. Just remove the included screw, slide the drive into the slot ,and secure it down again. I mean that is the way that it should be, but not all laptops do come with a screw with their secondary M.2 slot.

The next step is to actually head over to Windows again and format or initialize that new drive. To do that go into the search bar type “partition” and open the Disk Management Utility, and it should find the new drive. Here you should initialize it as GPT, it will also show up in black as an unallocated drive, then right-click on the drive and click on New Simple Volume. The next steps are simple, just give it a name and choose a drive letter before formatting it. The formatting process will take a few moments and then your upgraded drive will be ready to use.

But what kind of performance do you get when you upgrade from a standard spinning hard drive to an SSD or perhaps even an NVMe SSD? I want to start things off with game updates because the last thing that anyone wants is to just sit in front of their screen and then just wait for a download to finish just because their storage is being a bottleneck. This is super true when it comes to games like PUBG, which downloads larger files and then waits for them to decompress and install before downloading the next batch. This leads to massive time savings when moving to a faster drive. Total War: Warhammer II is a perfect example of another game that requires the storage system to compress and decompress really large files. I also want to mention that this seems to be something a lot of Steam games do. Rainbow Six Siege on the other hand tends to download and install anymore parallel streamlined way, and you will see some benefits moving to a faster drive but just not as much. Next let’s take a look at how notoriously slow loading games behave, and yes the SATA SSD does load faster, but you won’t see the same massive speed ups as when a game is installing or updating. The difference will be a lot less noticeable, but then again 30 seconds here and there does add up over time.

Conclusion

So that pretty much wraps up our guide when it comes to optimizing and upgrading your gaming laptop. Obviously the performance results really do speak for themselves. I know shopping season is right around the corner, and if you are looking for a really awesome gaming laptop without spending a lot of money consider the Legion 5 with the AMD Ryzen processor, because it’s just an amazing value. The performances you get is actually pretty respectable too for the price. Let us know what you all think about this article, and if you have any suggestions or tips or tricks that we could use for a future update I will be more than happy to take a look at them.